Last year, Minnesota passed a bill, The Fostering Higher Education Act, that is helping current and former foster youth attend college. The bill will offer grants to current and former foster youth to cover tuition to a public or private university. The bill will also help with other expenses that may be a financial burden to current or former foster youth who are college students. This will be available for students who fill out their FAFSA application and were in the foster care system at the age of 13 years or older.
Prior to the bill’s passage by the Minnesota Senate in June 2021, I was working with Foster Advocates, an advocacy organization that fights for foster youth, for over a year. They offered me the opportunity to join in on organizing for legislative change. I, along with two other foster youth, spoke in front of the Minnesota House of Representatives and explained how this bill would benefit us and other foster youth. We told them how much foster youth struggle in college compared to their peers. “Even though I am thankful for everything the state had done for me, it is still not enough. I have to work full time while going to school full time just to manage my bills,” I expressed to the House of Representatives. “It’s hard and it gets stressful.”
I spoke to them about my personal experiences that are still ongoing. In October 2021, I had the privilege of introducing the governor, Tim Walz (D), at a bill signing event and had the opportunity to talk to many listening ears about the Fostering Higher Education Act that I helped pass.
Even though many people were excited about the bill, there were some people who weren’t enthused. “I am happy that this has passed, but this doesn’t benefit me,” one fellow foster youth, who chose to remain anonymous, explained. “It doesn’t help me because of the age gap. I will turn 26 soon.”
Another foster youth, who also chose to be anonymous, pointed out that the bill only covers traditional colleges and universities, limiting some youth from financial support. “I wish it would go toward trades. I realized a while ago that a regular college was not for me. I would like to go to barber school, but this doesn’t cover that. Maybe in the future.”
There are also some concerns about which colleges will be eligible for grants that are sponsored by the bill. Foster Advocates has been looking into making a list of colleges that will be applicable for financial support. There is still a need for the bill to expand to newer and different higher education programs.
Although there are some concerns with the bill, many foster youth are grateful. “I didn’t feel that I would be able to go back to school. I was concerned,” said Ryn Alicia, a former foster youth.
“This gives me more room to breathe. It gives more than the regular tuition waiver. I am able to take a break if I need it without being penalized for it.”
Being able to testify for a bill this big has been amazing because the bill benefits me. It gives me the extra security to know that I will be going to school completely for free and getting the extra funding to help me throughout my time in school. I got to hear how this bill can impact other foster youth who want to attend college. The amount of feedback has been worth it. I will be going back to school this fall, right when the law will be enacted.